A large amount of the wines we drink are blends. Even if the wine label indicates only one grape, there’s a good chance that unless otherwise specified, the wine is made up of two or more sources of that grape. The label may say Pinot Noir but the grapes could come from multiple vineyards. There are also laws, in California for example, that allow for a wine to say one grape on the label, yet have 25% of other grapes. One of the most famous blended wines is from Bordeaux, and is mostly made up of three or more different varieties. Chianti is also usually a blend. When you hear terms like single vineyard or single parcel, the winemakers is telling you that it is not a blend but from a specific area that he or she believe is wonderful on its own, and wants you to enjoy the full force of its terroir.
Actually, before modern wine laws were installed across the globe to ensure some sort of continuity, the majority of wines were made up of blends. For example, back in the day the wines of Montalcino in Tuscany were blends until a wine law was passed stating that they had to be comprised 100% the Brunello grape, hence Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG.
A whole book could be written about blending laws and I am sure there are some out there. But whether a wine is a make up of one grape from a few vineyards or different varieties, what compels winemakers to blend?
The idea behind blending is to mix two or more wines in certain proportions to produce a different wine, and should result in one product which is better than its individual components. This process is a true art that can be likened to a food recipe (needs a little salt here, maybe a little less pepper). And blends can change from year to year even within strict wine laws. The ultimate goal is balance.
Here is a general example. If a wine is made up of primarily Merlot and the season was wet and rainy, maybe the wine doesn’t have enough color and is a bit thin due to slight under ripening. A winemaker may choose to add a certain percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a higher tannin structure to give the wine a bit of heft. They then may add a bit of Petit Verdot, a dark hued wine, to add a depth of color and even more tannin. Let’s say this blend works and is in an 80%, 10%, 10% split. The wine goes to market and is loved all over the world. During the next vintage, that winemaker is going to use this formula to work from but if the growing season was warmer, then the winemaker may decide to lessen the last two components due to the soft plush notes of the Merlot. ART!
An easier example would be to look at a blend of one variety from multiple vineyards. Let’s say a winemaker is making a Pinot Noir and is sourcing from three vineyards. Each vineyard has a different soil composition and sun exposure. One vineyard is almost perfect at harvest, and so the winemaker wants to use this as the base of a blend. As almost perfect as this Pinot is, the acidity is a bit too high. One of the other vineyards’ harvest saw more sun that year and has lower acidity and more fruit depth. A little of this could be added to plump up the wine. The winemaker tastes this and thinks it’s almost there. It just needs a little something more…aromatic. The third vineyard’s resulting wine is made from a specific clone of Pinot Noir that provides more herbal notes and more prominent tannin. Winemaker #3 has tampered down the acidity but wants slight indications of clove to waft among the hints of cherry. The third winemaker plays around the percentages until it is just right and achieves what he or she was looking for, a soft light to medium bodied red wine with notes of cherries and hints of clove with a soft interwoven tannin structure.
Winemaking can be a grueling business, but most winemakers really enjoy this part of the process, as this is where their creativity can really shine. Also all the hard labor is pretty much done and they can somewhat relax and have fun with it. Like Netflix and chill but with the fruits — pun intended — of their labor.